Adjudication in Wargaming for Discovery


Posted: December 1, 2016 | By: Charles Turnitsa


Adjudication is at the heart of a wargaming system. If wargaming, as distinct from combat modeling or simulation, is to allow for players applying decisions to control forces engaged in operations against each other, then the ability to judge which set of decisions, and which course of action, results in victory is key to the wargaming event. There are, for many good reasons, a wide variety of different adjudication methods and approaches available, each of which come with different strengths and weaknesses. Several of these different methods have been examined here, especially with regards to evaluating the outcome of combat operations (notably between land systems, but equally applicable for naval and air operations).

The introduction of a hybrid adjudication method is discussed, that takes the approach and basic interaction benefits from using a tabletop system, but applies modern ubiquitous technology platforms to allow the introduction of digital adjudication methods into a flexible tabletop environment. Such a system can leverage technology and lessons learned from the LVC simulation community, from the non-professional hobby wargaming community, and from the existing professional wargaming adjudication community of practice.

Methods of adjudication that were not discussed in this article are those many areas of a conflict that exist, outside direct kinetic combat interaction, but still part of operations. These include the various other domains of the operational environment (political, economic, social, etc.) as well as the acquiring, movement, and expenditure of resources and the impact of effects on both the civilian society and the environment. As those other domains are important to operations, and operational success or failure can involve one or many of those domains, adjudication methods that address them are equally important, but were not discussed (because of space) in this article.

Finally, the one thing that was also not discussed, except touched on very briefly in the description of what adjudication involves, is the fact that adjudication is much more than just counting attrition, and evaluating how long in an encounter a unit is likely to remain combat viable. Attrition involves the whole reason for an operation, or a course of action. A commander in an operation, much as a player in a wargame, is given some sense of what he/she is fighting for. Also, some sense of what the enemy may (or may not) be fighting for. In comparing those two, the commander will (in his assessment of the situation) try to determine what the operational goals, and operational strength of the enemy force are. From this, the commander will then decide what the defeat mechanism is that will keep the enemy from achieving their goal. A plan (course of action) is then devised that will keep the enemy from achieving their goal, by triggering the defeat mechanism. In his great work on military and national strategy [16], B.H. Liddell Hart expressed this as The Indirect Approach. By that, he draws the distinction of a good plan as one which minimizes the enemy’s strength, while striking at what will cause the enemy to fail. This is typically not a fight of attrition. In fact, Liddell Hart’s eight axioms of how to engage in a campaign against an enemy, would definitely seek to avoid attrition, and emphasis flexibility of thinking, and constant adaptation to unfolding events [17].

  • Adjust your end to your means
  • Keep your object always in mind
  • Choose the line (or course) of least expectation
  • Exploit the line of least resistance
  • Take a line of operation which offers alternative objectives
  • Ensure that both plan and dispositions are flexible – adaptable to circumstances
  • Do not throw your weight into a stroke whilst your opponent is on guard
  • Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same form) after it has once failed

Having an adjudication system that can assess whether or not a player has (correctly) identified a plausible goal for his/her enemy, and a plausible definition of the defeat mechanism that must be attained, in order to keep that enemy from achieving their goals is probably beyond what could be accomplished within a game system. The complexity of such an undertaking is just too high. And if it could be understood, the maxims of achieving that, especially as Liddell Hart and others have described, and has been taught in military thought for decades, is likely to be too complex for a game system to evaluate. So, until that time, whatever systems for adjudication of actions (sensing, moving, fighting, and so forth) might exist, the interpretation of those actions will still require a human adjudication staff. But the tools to help that human staff can, and should, be constantly considered for improvement.


  1. Wiggins also credits the phrase “they provide new ways of conceptualizing the problem, new courses of action, new elements of information needed for decisions, previously unknown relationships between aspects of a problem, understanding of the problem’s dynamics” to John Hughes, in a Strategic Studies Group Dissertation, from 1991.


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